“Boys, no jumping on Mimi’s couches.”

“No snacks in Mimi’s living room.”

“And no wrestling on Mimi’s bed!!”

If you have children and you’ve ever visited family, I’m sure you’ve had similar declarations come out of your mouth. Welcome to disciplining kids at Grandma’s house. Why can’t kids always be on their “best behavior,” and show the world the little angels you’re raising??

Let’s be real. Those little sweeties aren’t always angels.

And sometimes friends, in-laws, or random old ladies at the grocery store say things about your parenting or your children’s behavior that you prefer they’d keep to themselves. Plus, there’s no time like the holidays—cramped quarters and together more than any other time of year—for our kids’ behavior and our family’s opinions to come out in the worst way and at the worst time possible.

So how do we survive the holidays with family and kids while not losing our sanity (or our hair)? I’ve got three rules for you.

The first two rules to disciplining kids at Grandma’s may seem to contradict. But I promise you they don’t. And I’ll tell you why.

1. My house, my rules

A few weeks ago, we were visiting my mom when I had a speaking engagement nearby. And all three of the statements above came out of my mouth multiple times a day.

Like any grandmother, my mom has certain rules for her house. It just so happens that in our house, we are slightly more lax on some of the rules she enforces. It’s one of the reasons we didn’t buy the most expensive couches at the store. And why we’re constantly vacuuming.

But my mom has lived through the little-children years. When my brother and I were younger, we were allowed to have snacks in the living room. Now that we’re all grown up, she doesn’t have to worry about the daily messes that accompany littles. So she is certainly allowed to splurge a little on nicer couches. And I don’t blame her for not wanting to deal with crumbs and spills on those nice couches.

We needed to make a plan on what we’d expect from them and how we planned on disciplining our kids at Grandma’s.

So, her house, her rules.

When we’re at Mimi’s (or Nana’s, or anyone else’s), we listen to her rules. We eat in the kitchen. We do our dishes right away. We’re extra careful to take good care of her toys. We don’t chase her dogs. We don’t leave toys laying out. And we don’t run around like banshees.

Basically, we opt for respecting Mimi’s things and putting it back how we found it.

(In case you think Mimi’s house is just full of “noes,” I promise you, they love being at her house. She spoils them rotten.)

2. My kids, my rules

When it comes to what my kids eat, what time they go to bed, and how they’re disciplined, my rule is: my kids, my rules. Every parent raises and disciplines their kid(s) differently based on personality, health needs, and a multitude of other details.

Yes, grandparents may say their two cents. They may spout the occasional, “Eat your broccoli and you can have ice cream!” But if you, their parent, don’t agree with any part of that statement, it’s okay to say no.

It’s okay to speak up to say how you’re raising them. (In a respectful way of course.) And no matter what anyone says, your wishes for your child should be respected.

For the first two years of my oldest son’s life, we kept him away from as much sugar as we could. My mother-in-law, God bless her, was so excited to make things like Jello-Jigglers and ice cream cones for him.

But she respected my wishes. Even though she was eager to spoil him the way every kid deserves to be spoiled by their grandparents, she made sure to get my husband’s or my permission before offering anything.

And when my kids were younger, especially when we only had one baby, we lived by naps and bedtime. Following the advice of my sister-in-law, I learned early that babies crave a routine and a schedule. So occasionally, I’d try a car-seat nap or wear my baby in a carrier during nap time. But I knew my baby. My baby slept best in his crib.

I realized it wasn’t always convenient that we had to be home for a couple hours in the morning and a couple hours in the afternoon. As well as being home in the evening for an early bedtime. But I knew what my baby needed.

And by sticking with a schedule, I was saving all of us from an evening trying to get a crying, overtired baby to sleep.

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3. Behavior is “best” no matter where you are

Upon leaving the house as a child, I remember my parents saying, “Now, I want you to be on your best behavior!” And while I know they had the best of intentions (and kids can definitely use the reminder), I believe we should take it a step further.

Kids should be on their best behavior no matter where they are. (In theory.) How they behave at grandma’s house, Target, or church should reflect how they behave at home.

Yes, kids are inconsistent and unpredictable. At any given moment, your angel baby may lay kicking and screaming on the floor and yell at the top of their lungs because you said they can’t have a third lollipop. (Or because you wiped their boogie away, or their sibling looked at them, or they want what their brother has … the list could go on and on.)

But if we view our job as parents as discipling their hearts to be more like Jesus, we should keep the bar high and expect godly behavior no matter whether we’re at home or out. Plus, building consistency at home, where they know they must listen and obey, will more easily carry over into outside situations.

Sure, they’re only kids

Yes, we need to remember they are kids. They are young and still trying to figure out what it looks like to be human. But if we turn to Scripture, we can easily find instances when Jesus dealt with immature disciples. (See Luke 22.) And in those moments, He showed them love, grace, and truth.

Jesus loved His disciples through their struggles and their questioning and their sinfulness. All the while still holding them to a standard where they live out the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no greater guide for what characteristics we should seek to instill in our kids.

However, one of the biggest things we need to remember is that kids learn through observation. If we’re expecting the of the fruit of the Spirit, we need to be exemplifying that same fruit. The best way we can instill in them to be on their best behavior wherever they are is to be modeling for them our best behavior wherever we are.

We all mess up

More importantly, that “behavior” shouldn’t be a mask we wear or a role we play in order to portray ourselves as better than we are. Being on our best behavior should mean humbly accepting our flesh nature as sinful. But at the same time, striving every day to be more and more like Christ.

Allowing our kids to mess up because we mess up, too. Allowing them to learn from their mistakes, not be humiliated by them. Showing them grace because we are shown grace. Loving them unconditionally because we are loved that way.

But disciplining them—even at grandma’s—is for their own good. If we do it in a way that will help them see their sinful nature and find a pathway to the loving, forgiving, sanctifying arms of Jesus.

Nothing can show us our own sin or remind us that we are still babies in our faith quite like raising children. It’s hard and messy and humbling and sanctifying.

It’s also a high calling. Not one we should take lightly. We need to be our children’s biggest advocate, while at the same time not cover over their mistakes to make them or us look perfect. Again, they are kids. We need to allow them to be kids.

But if this holiday season you’re looking for a short and sweet guideline for disciplining the kids at grandma’s, you’re more than welcome to use my three rules. They’ve served me well. And we’re looking forward to good family time together this season.

Copyright © 2019 Jenn Grandlienard. All rights reserved.

Jenn Grandlienard grew up an East Coast Philly girl, but now loves calling the Midwest her home. She lives in Xenia, Ohio with her husband, Stuart, two sons, Knox and Zeke, and pup, Stella. Jenn and her husband work with Athletes in Action, a ministry of Cru that teaches college athletes what it means to have a relationship with Jesus. She loves to read, work out, laugh really hard with friends, and spend time with her husband and boys. You can check out her blog about all these things and more at OurGrandLife.com. Find her on Instagram at @mrsjenngrand and on Facebook.